Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants

Chase Utley, in the teeniest of sample sizes, has typically handled Barry Zito fairly well in past meetings. The left-handed hitting Phillies second baseman is 7-for-20 vs. the Giants lefty with a .350/.350/.700 triple slash line since the two first became acquainted in 2005. Prior to yesterday afternoon, Utley had stuck out versus Zito just once before, in 2007.

Utley hasn’t fared as well versus left-handers over the last few seasons as he did earlier in his career, but he’s still matched up well versus Zito with three hits (including a triple and home run) in his last six plate appearances. Zito turned the tables on Utley on Wednesday afternoon, holding him hitless in three at-bats.

While it’s not overly remarkable that Zito sat down Utley on four pitches in the seventh inning yesterday, it warrants an examination based on the pitch selection and sheer goofiness of the hurler’s stuff.

Utley watched a textbook Zito curve fall into the zone for strike one:

Zito went back to the curveball on the next pitch, placing it perfectly on the outside corner. Utley hacked at it and missed:

With Utley down 0-2, Zito went back to the curve once again. Utley sent it into the dirt foul with a check swing. Zito threw a cutter of the 81 mph variety for his next pitch, which Utley chased (totally intentional), for strike three:

Here’s how it looked from Utley’s perspective:

There it is, Chase Utley goes 0-for-3 with a groundout, pop out, and strikeout versus Barry Zito. Zito leaned heavily on his curveball and cutter to get it done, tossing each pitch five times and mixing in just two fastballs. If we look at some pitch fx data for this season, Utley has seen more curveballs and cutters than he has in recent years. Again, it’s a tiny sample size. Regardless, Utley has not handled either pitch particularly well compared to past results.

As for the Zito as a pitcher reborn, well it’s hard to lend much credence to that narrative. Earlier this season, Wendy Thurm looked at Zito’s results from his recent run of decency and noted that he’s still essentially the same pitcher as he’s been the last five years. Still. There may be something to his renewed focus/calmness/etc./etc. We can’t quantify it, but he effectively read the book on the Chase Utley and got the desired results on Wednesday.

Many thanks to Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference,and Fangraphs for data